Remembering Harve Harrison: ‘A dignified and effective leader’

With last week’s passing of former Edmonds Mayor Harve Harrison, many in the community who knew him and worked with him are pausing to recall a man whose quiet leadership and dignity ushered our community from its hardscrabble mill town past to the city of parks, views and quality of life that we cherish today.

When Harrison took office in 1967, Edmonds was coming off a half century largely shaped by the production of forest products, and was very much in the throes of redefining itself for the future.

Part of that future would be parks.

“Harve was an enthusiastic supporter of creating parks in our community,” said Bill Phillips, a former Edmonds High School science teacher and Parks Board member who was Harrison’s classmate at Seattle’s Lincoln High School. “I was living off Olympic Avenue at the time, and worked with some of my students to turn a vacant tract of land into a community park. We did all the labor ourselves, and the result was Hummingbird Hill Park, which remains part of the city park system today. Harve saw what we’d done, and asked me to join the parks board.”

With Harrison’s full support, Phillips went from there to play a leading role in the effort to acquire and transform the old industrial waterfront properties into Marina Beach Park, Olympic Beach Park and Brackett’s Landing Park, the crown jewels of the Edmonds park system.

“Harve was a fine gentleman and a wonderful man to work with,” Phillips said. “His door was always open.”

But the legacy for Harrison, who served 16 years as mayor — between 1967 and 1983 — extends far beyond Edmonds’ parks.

“He saw a real opportunity for Edmonds when Emerald Hills was in the early planning stages,” recalled former Mayor Laura Hall. “My husband had just passed away, and I guess Harve figured I needed a challenging project. He approached me and asked if I would help secure the bonds to help get Emerald Hills going. That all worked out pretty well. Then out of the blue he suggested that I try a run for city council. I said ‘you’re crazy, Harve,’ but he persisted and I eventually ran, was elected, and served two terms on council.”

Describing Harrison as a “physical fitness nut,” Hall related how she would often see him running around the track with his daughter Cornelia. And it wasn’t just running. A scuba diver and avid cyclist well into his 80s, Harrison remained undeterred after what Hall characterizes as a “pretty bad bicycle accident about eight years ago.”

Former Edmonds Mayor Larry Naughton also shared his admiration of Harrison, despite the fact the two were opponents.

“I ran against Harve in 1983, and while we disagreed on a lot, I always admired and respected his attitude,” Naughton observed. “He never wavered from his top concern: improving the community and our quality of life in Edmonds. His door was always open.”

In remarks to the Edmonds City Council earlier this week, Mayor Dave Earling described Harrison as “a dignified and very effective leader who knew how to get things accomplished. He never sought the spotlight for himself, and it took some real coaxing to get him to participate in last year’s 125th anniversary celebration of the founding of Edmonds. But it was such a thrill to have him there. It truly made the day for me.”

Memorial services for Harve Harrison will be Saturday, Aug. 13 between 2 and 4 p.m. at Beck’s Funeral Home, 405 Fifth Ave. S., Edmonds. For more information and to leave your personal memories, follow this link.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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